Hunter's miscue costs Twins, Athletics up 2-0 in ALDSOct 4, 2006 - 8:20 PM MINNEAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Torii Hunter's ill-advised gamble helped push the Minnesota Twins to the brink of elimination.
A five-time Gold Glove-winning center fielder, Hunter dove for a sinking liner that skipped past him for a tiebreaking two-run inside-the-park homer by Mark Kotsay as the Oakland Athletics claimed a commanding two-games-to-none lead in the American League Division Series with a 5-2 victory over the Twins.
"I wouldn't dive unless I know I can get it," Hunter said. "When the ball cut on me, I tried to reach out and get it and it just cut so far away from me. It happened."
The inside-the-park home run was the second in Oakland's postseason history and it came exactly four years after Ray Durham hit the first against the Twins in Game Three of the ALDS. Minnesota won that series, three games to two.
But it appears the Athletics are primed to win this series, although they have to shake off the stigma of going 0-9 in games when they could have eliminated their opponents in a first-round playoff series from 2000-03.
The Athletics won the first two games against the New York Yankees on the road in the 2001 ALDS before losing the next three. They won the first two at home in the 2003 ALDS against Boston before again losing the next three.
"We haven't done anything yet," Oakland outfielder Nick Swisher said. "We won two games, OK, congratulations, good job, but it's not over yet. We know that. We've got good veteran guys in here and a lot of guys are hungry. Now we've got to win that third one."
Game Three of this series is Friday afternoon at Oakland.
The Athletics were holding a 2-0 lead before Minnesota's Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau hit back-to-back homers off Esteban Loaiza to start the bottom of the sixth.
But Oakland quickly reclaimed the lead in the seventh, thanks to Hunter's costly mistake.
Reliever Pat Neshek (0-1) allowed a one-out single to Mark Ellis and Jason Kendall followed by bouncing into a forceout. Kotsay then hit a liner to center off Dennys Reyes that Hunter probably should have stayed back on and fielded on one hop. Instead, Hunter dove and the ball bounced past his glove and went all the way to the wall.
"That is just me. I go after the ball," Hunter said. "I made a mistake. You can't be upset about that. One play can't lose. It is nine guys out there, but today I take the blame."
Kendall scored easily and Kotsay circled the bases as well, giving the Athletics a 4-2 lead.
"I thought it (the ball) might go down, but Torii is a great center fielder, so I kind of hesitated for a second out of the box," Kotsay said. "Once I saw it get by him, I took off and tried to stay as loose as possible running the bases.
"As a fellow center fielder, it's not a good feeling when you go after it and it takes off like that and gets by. If he had to do it over again, he would do it the same way because he is an aggressive outfielder."
Oakland added a run in the ninth when Swisher doubled off Juan Rincon, moved to third on a grounder by Ellis and scored on a wild pitch by Joe Nathan.
Kiko Calero (1-0) replaced Loaiza after the back-to-back home runs by Cuddyer and Morneau and pitched a scoreless inning for the win.
Justin Duchscherer tossed two hitless innings before Huston Street earned his second save in as many days.
Street allowed a single to Jason Bartlett and walked Luis Castillo in the ninth inning, but retired Nick Punto on a popout to shortstop on a 3-2 pitch to end the game with AL batting champion Joe Mauer waiting on deck.
The loss was the seventh straight at home in the postseason for the Twins since a win over Anaheim in Game One of the 2002 AL Championship Series.
With rookie phenom Francisco Liriano out with an elbow injury, the Twins started rookie Boof Bonser in Game Two. Bonser, who was 4-1 with a 2.83 ERA in September, limited the Athletics to just two runs and seven hits in six innings.
"It was fun," said Bonser, who was acquired along with Liriano and Nathan in the trade that sent catcher A.J. Pierzynski to San Francisco in 2004. "I didn't even think about a playoff game. I went at them like a normal game. I just went after them."
The Athletics scored both of their runs off Bonser in the fifth inning. Swisher led off with a double over the head of first baseman Morneau and Marco Scutaro followed with an RBI double to the right field corner.
Scutaro moved to third on a grounder by Ellis and scored when Kendall singled to left past a drawn-in infield.
Loaiza, who won seven of his last nine regular-season decisions, scattered six singles - all after two outs - over the first five innings. Minnesota had runners on first and second and two outs in the fifth when third baseman Eric Chavez lunged to field a hard grounder by Mauer and threw him out at first to end the inning.
"He (Loaiza) pitched the game he's been pitching since the All-Star break," Athletics manager Ken Macha said. "He didn't walk anybody, used his cutter on both sides of the plate, pretty much put the ball where he wanted to."
But in the sixth, Cuddyer pulled a 3-2 pitch over the left field wall. Morneau then launched a 1-2 pitch into the upper deck in right field to tie the game.
"I felt like it might get us started and Justin came up and hit his," Cuddyer said. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to do anything else."
Cuddyer also defended Hunter's diving attempt of Kotsay's liner in the seventh.
"Only one person in this league can make that play and that is Torii Hunter," Cuddyer said. "But the ball cut away from him after he had already committed himself."
Hunter believes the Twins, who came from 10 1/2 games behind Detroit on August 7 to win the AL Central, can still win the series.
"We need a three-game streak," Hunter said. "We have had that before. You hope to get that now and we can go out and win this thing."
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